Senators: Plan need to include water supply

Published 8:40 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2010

U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson on Tuesday urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to include the effects of current and future water supply withdrawals from Lake Lanier in the update of the water control manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.

In a letter written to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, Georgia’s U.S. senators said they were concerned about the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement in light of the recent order by Judge Paul Magnuson.

On July 21, Magnuson ruled against Florida’s attempt to use the federal Endangered Species Act to contend that the Army Corps of Engineers’ operation of Lake Lanier threatens the continued existence of three endangered species in the Apalachicola River.

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Florida maintained that the Corps should allow more water to flow out of Lake Lanier’s Buford Dam north of Atlanta in order to support the three species.

Another part of Judge Magnuson’s ruling on Wednesday was that the Corps should consider water supply from Lake Lanier in future analysis of needs in the Chattahoochee basin.

Last week’s ruling by Magnuson is considered Phase 2 of the Tri-State Water Rights Litigation.

In his order, Judge Magnuson specifically cautioned the Corps against limiting the scope of the analysis in the ACF Basin to anything short of “all reasonable alternatives.” The order further stated that “an EIS that does not at least consider the effects of current and future water supply withdrawals from Lake Lanier as well as other points in the ACF system is, for all intents and purposes, a useless document,” the senators wrote.

“We agree with Judge Magnuson’s above statements and urge the Corps to take all options into account as you update this manual. Specifically, in light of this most recent order, we trust that the Corps will revise the scope of the current Environmental Impact Statement,” Chambliss and Isakson wrote. “We have been advocating for an updated water control manual for the ACF for many years, as the last approved master manual for the ACF Basin dates back to 1958. We strongly believe that the Corps can update the manual in a way that accommodates any solution resulting from ongoing negotiations between the Governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia.”

The rulings

It’s been a year since the senior U.S. District judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by Alabama and Florida that the Army Corps of Engineers exceeded their authority in allowing water withdrawals from Lake Lanier to meet the water supply needs of metro Atlanta’s 3.5 million residents.

In his order, Magnuson made it clear that the only way to meet the needs of the metro area is for Congress to authorize Lake Lanier for water supply. The judge stayed his ruling until 2012 to give Georgia time to seek that authorization.

“As virtually everyone knows by now, the Magnuson ruling has serious implications not only for metro Atlanta, but for everyone in the state. A significant water deficit in metro Atlanta, which is a vital economic engine for our state, will negatively impact businesses and citizens across Georgia and the Southeast,” Gov. Sonny Perdue said in a news release that marked the one-year anniversary of the ruling.

“While that is certainly a disturbing thought, there is reason for optimism. Beginning long before the ruling last year, Georgia has worked hard to develop and implement effective water planning efforts,” Perdue said “We have focused on encouraging a culture of conservation in Georgia and our citizens have responded to that call. We began comprehensive, statewide water planning initiatives more than six years ago, and recently I signed landmark water conservation legislation into law. In 2008, I launched Conserve Georgia, a statewide outreach campaign that includes water conservation as an important component.”

The recently enacted Water Stewardship Act asks Georgians to make an active commitment to water conservation, while at the same time providing incentives that encourage innovation and creativity among our water providers. The legislation prepares Georgia for future growth, protects water-sensitive industries and equips the state with tools to navigate future water shortages caused by natural occurrences such as droughts, the governor said.

In the wake of Magnuson’s ruling, Perdue said he re-opened negotiations with Alabama and Florida to find a fair and equitable water-sharing solution, and those negotiations continue.

“I want to reassure Georgians that I am doing everything I can to reach agreement on a beneficial water sharing plan before leaving office early next year,” Perdue said.

Earlier this month, the Georgia Riverkeepers issued a call to action to the state’s gubernatorial candidates, insisting on the need for a change of course in resolving the Tri-State Water Wars and providing for metro Atlanta’s water supply.

The Coosa Riverkeeper, Flint Riverkeeper and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper—with the support of riverkeeper groups throughout the state—issued a three-point plan.

The riverkeeper’s plan has three main components—the three Rs: Respect, reveal and reduce.

Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative said at the conference in which the Riverkeepers released their plan, “For too long, many of our leaders have pitted the needs of metro Atlanta against the needs of everyone downstream, in Georgia and beyond. We must demonstrate respect for downstream communities, including respecting their rights to enough clean water, a sustainable environment, and future prosperity.”